Burned Out? It Might Be Time to Look at Your Goals (IO Psychology)
Topic: Burnout, Stress, Goals
Publication: Journal of Applied Social Psychology
Article: The 2×2 model of goal orientation and burnout: The role of approach-avoidance dimensions in predicting burnout
Authors: Naidoo, L. J., DeCriscio, A., Bily, H., Manipella, A., Ryan, M., & Youdim, J.
Reviewer: Neil Morelli
There have been times when we’ve all felt a little burned out from work. When we feel burned out the usual suspects are situational factors like the job, occupation, organizational characteristics, leadership, and individual differences. But there is one variable that has typically been ignored in the literature—our motivational dispositions, or in other words, our goals.
Burnout is typically defined as having three components: emotional exhaustion, cynicism, and reduced personal efficacy. Dispositional preferences, or our goal orientation for certain kinds of goals may, be linked to burnout because burnout is often viewed as environmental or work demands getting in the way of achieving our personal goals.
Naidoo et al. suggested thinking of goal orientation as being broken down into a 2×2 table. On the one side is mastery-orientation, the people who think they can improve and often set goals that are challenging or developmental; and performance-orientation, the people who think ability is fixed so they set goals that are attainable and not as challenging. The other side of the table is approach versus avoidance, or striving toward a goal out of anticipating its positive outcomes, or out of avoiding negative outcomes associated with failing to attain it.
Naidoo et al. gathered student responses to questions regarding goal pursuit and burnout measurement. Using structural modeling, the authors found that avoidance goal orientations were positively related to the three aspects of burnout and approach goal orientations were negatively related.
In light of conservation of resources theory, these findings suggest that people with avoidant goal orientations are more sensitive to resource loss (not reaching goals) and less likely to seek help when they fail. Whereas those with approach goal orientations may be more resilient to burnout inducing conditions.
What does all this mean? The authors suggest that to help reduce burnout, organizations and leaders that help the goals of their employees become more mastery-approach oriented could help them become more resilient to stressful conditions when it isn’t realistic to change the situation. This is a prudent suggestion for any leader who can help define goals for their team members or who can help determine the cultural norms of goal setting.
Naidoo, L. J., DeCriscio, A., Bily, H., Manipella, A., Ryan, M., & Youdim, J. (2012). The 2 x 2 model of goal orientation and burnout: The role of approach-avoidance dimensions in predicting burnout. Journal of Applied Social Psychology, 42(10), 2541-2563.
human resource management, organizational industrial psychology, organizational management
Goals for Groups (IO Psychology)
Topic: Goals, Teams, Job Performance
Publication: Journal of Applied Psychology (NOV 2011)
Article: The Effect of Goal Setting on Group Performance: A Meta-Analysis
Authors: A. Kleingeld, H. van Mierlo, L. Arends
Reviewed By: Ben Sher
He shoots, he scores! No, not those kind of goals. We’re talking about workplace goals—the kind that are used to help improve performance. And while past research has shown that goals do improve performance for individuals, a new meta-analysis by Kleingeld, van Mierlo, and Arends (2011) confirms that goals can help groups as well.
Once upon a time, Locke and Latham (1990) found that goals can help individual performance if the goals meet two criteria. They said that goals ideally need to be specific and difficult to reach. This became the basis of the popular Goal Setting Theory promoted by Locke and Latham over the past two decades.
But many studies also investigated the effects of goal-setting on groups. They wanted to know if goal setting improved group performance the same way it improves individual performance. According to the new meta-analysis, group goals are not only useful, but also subject to the same criteria as individual goals: they work best when they are specific and difficult to reach. Under these circumstances, group goals will best lead to higher group performance.
Additionally, the meta-analysis looked at two types of goals that people might set while working within groups: egocentric goals or “groupcentric” goals. Egocentric goals try to maximize performance of the individual, while “groupcentric” goals aim to improve the performance of the entire group. If group members depend on each other to get work done, setting egocentric goals leads to lower group performance, while setting “groupcentric” goals leads to higher group performance. This is because egocentric goals put too much emphasis on individual performance and discourage collaboration, while “groupcentric” goals encourage team members to cooperate.
This study provides a clear path for team success: Set goals that are specific and difficult to attain. Additionally, team members should set goals which specifically relate to overall group performance, and not goals which focus on individual performance. Following this recipe will allow teams to maximize their performance potential.
human resource management, organizational industrial psychology, organizational management
Stretching: Not as Beneficial as You Might Think
Publication: Academy of Management Review (JUL 2011)
Article: The Paradox of Stretch Goals: Organizations in Pursuit of the Seemingly Impossible
Authors: S. B. Sitkin, K. E. See, C. C. Miller, M. W. Lawless, & A. M. Carton
Reviewed By: Thaddeus Rada
In today’s ever-changing business and economic climate, organizations may be increasingly likely to looks towards unconventional methods of change to obtain results and achieve their goals. One way in which organizations can attempt to create major change is through the use of stretch goals. Stretch goals are goals that are essentially viewed as impossible, at least for a particular organization at the time that the goal is set. When used most effectively, a stretch goal forces an organization’s employees to be creative, question the status quo, and find new ways to address challenges. While stretch goals are often thought to be effective in a variety of scenarios, a new paper by Sim Sitkin and colleagues questions this notion. Specifically, they propose a model that explains how both the likelihood of using stretch goals, and the potential for success in using such goals, might be linked to recent organizational performance and the presence (or absence) of slack (extra) resources in the organization.
Sitkin and colleagues conclude that the organizations that are most likely to use stretch goals are also those that are least likely to reap the benefits of such goals. More specifically, organizations with poor recent performance and a lack of slack resources may be likely to attempt to use stretch goals in a dramatic attempt to turn things around; however, Sitkin and colleagues argue that the very conditions that cause such organizations to turn to stretch goals make it likely that negative outcomes will accompany the use of stretch goals (that is, there will be few to no improvements in organizational learning or performance).
Conversely, Sitkin and colleagues also posit that the organizations that are least likely to use stretch goals are often those that are in the best position to benefit from them. Organizations that have slack resources available and a recent history of good performance stand the best chance of benefiting from the use of stretch goals; however, the conditions that make these positive outcomes likely also minimize the chance that an organization will take the risks associated with using stretch goals. If an organization is experiencing success, high-risk attempts at change, like stretch goals, are unlikely.
While more empirical testing of this model is needed, it provides an initial caution to practitioners and managers that stretch goals may not always be an effective cure for organizational ills. In particular, the current pattern of stretch goal use may need to be reconsidered, with poorly-performing organizations utilizing methods of change other than stretch goals, and successful organizations being more willing to take the plunge and use stretch goals to make further advancements.
Sitkin, S. B., See, K. E., Miller, C. C., Lawless, M. W., & Carton, A. M. (2011). The paradox of stretch goals: Organizations in pursuit of the seemingly impossible. Academy of Management Review, 36, 544-566
human resource management,organizational industrial psychology, organizational management
Learning to learn: aim high and believe in yourself!
Topic: Training, Goals, Learning
Publication: Psychological Bulletin (MAR 2011)
Article: A meta-analysis of self-regulated learning in work-related training and educational attainment: What we know and where we need to go
Authors: T. Sitzmann, K. Ely
Reviewed by: Alexandra Rechlin
When people self-regulate, they monitor their emotions, thoughts, and behaviors in order to obtain some sort of goal. Self-regulated learning refers to when people attempt to monitor and control their emotions, thoughts, and behaviors in order to attain a learning or achievement outcome. The authors of this article reviewed numerous theories of self-regulated learning and conducted a meta-analysis to better understand the extent to which self-regulated learning processes affect learning.
Think about the last time you attended some sort of training session. Assuming that you actually cared about learning something, you may have set a performance goal for yourself. That goal is a regulatory agent – it gets you moving towards positive outcomes. To achieve your goal, you may have used a number of strategies, like planning, monitoring, controlling your emotions, and environmental structuring (e.g., choosing to review training materials in a library instead of at a basketball game). These strategies are called regulatory mechanisms, because they are processes used to achieve a goal. Other regulatory mechanisms include metacognition (thinking about thinking), attention, learning strategies, persistence, time management, and effort. Finally, you might use regulatory appraisals to evaluate your progress towards achieving your learning goal. These regulatory appraisals include self-evaluation, attributions, and self-efficacy (belief in your own capabilities).
Time for Teamwork: When Aspects of Collectivism are Most Beneficial
Topic: Goals, Job Performance, Teams
Publication: Journal of Applied Psychology (March, 2011)
Article: The power of “we”: effects of psychological collectivism on team
performance over time
Authors: Erich C. Dierdorff, Suzanne T. Bell, and James A. Belohlav
Reviewed By: Allison B. Siminovsky
Collectivism, in essence, is the orientation of a group’s members toward a similar set of goals and for their mutual wellbeing as a team. A group composed of collectivistic members should be more cooperative and will likely show a higher degree of citizenship behavior amongst its team members. However, can certain aspects of collectivism be damaging? The authors of this study set out to determine the interplay of psychological collectivism and team performance over the course of time.
The authors measured a number of different aspects of collectivism in group members during various points in group formation and attempted to link this information to the group’s performance. For example, they found that preference, the collectivistic aspect involving interest in aligning with other group members, was beneficial to groups at initial formation. On the other hand, the aspect of reliance, or assuming that other members will take on as much responsibility as you will, can be damaging to a newly formed group. Group members need time to get to know one another on the interpersonal level and diving too quickly into responsibility assumptions can damage new relationships.
To Give Is To Get In Work Teams
Topic: Goals, Performance, Teams
Publication: Human Performance
Article: What you do for your team comesback to you: A cross-level investigation of individual goal specification,team-goal clarity, and individual performance
Authors: S. Sonnentag and J. Volmer
Reviewed By: Benjamin Granger
Much of today’s work is done by workteams. Even if an employee’s work is self-contained, it is often combined with the work of other team members. Cleary then, individual performance is vital for determining the team’s level of overall performance. But how do employees’ inputs into the team impact their own performance?
A study by Sonnentag and Volmer (2010) suggests that the level of involvement employees have in the development and specification of their work team’s goals has important implications for their own individual performance.
Involvement in specifying the work team’s goals can include verbally contributing one’s own ideas, expanding on the ideas of others, or suggesting the prioritization of some goals over others. In their study, Sonnentag and Volmer specifically focused on whether employees were verbal in contributing to the team’s goals during scheduled team meetings.
The authors studied 31 software design teams (groups of 4-6 computer science students working on large projects throughout the course of a semester) whose projects were designed to reflect professional software design projects. According to the authors, employees who actively involve themselves in the specification of their team’s goals, gain a better understanding of those
goals and are better able to focus on their vital aspects. This then allows them to boost their performance and contribution to the team.
While their results suggest that verbal participation in goal specification is beneficial to an individual’s own performance, Sonnentag and Volmer found that this was particularly so when the team’s goals are not well defined. That is, clear team goals are goals that are well defined and team members are able to build a shared understanding of them. When team goals were very clear, even team members who were not actively engaged in developing the team’s goals were able to gain an understanding of the goals and perform at a high level. When team goals were not clear, however, participation in the specification of team goals had big payoffs in terms in individual performance.
This study shows us that team members who are more actively involved in helping to determine the team’s goals and objectives not only help the team, but also reap the rewards of increased individual performance. Managers should train and encourage their employees to actively participate in the development of team goals during team meetings. Sonnentag and Volmer’s findings further suggest that such involvement is particularly important when team goals are not well specified, such as in the early stages of a team project.
Sonnentag, S. & Volmer, J. (2010). What you do for your team comes back to you: A cross-level investigation of individual goal specification, team-goal clarity, and individual performance. Human Performance, 23(2), 116-130.
Rushing Toward Goal Attainment
Publication: Applied Psychology: An International Review (JUN 2010)
Article: Velocity as a predictor of performance satisfaction, mental focus, and goal revision
Authors: J.D. Elicker, R.G. Lord, S.R. Ash, N.C. Kohari, B.J. Hruska, N.L McConnell and M.E. Medvedeff
Reviewed By: Benjamin Granger
We all know how great it feels to reach our goals. But what about when we know we are approaching our goals quickly? Goal setting is a process that creates discrepancies between one’s current performance and some future performance ideal. One of the most obvious outcomes of goal attainment is satisfaction (Yes, I did it!), but in a recent study of college students’ academic goals over the course of a college semester, Elicker et al. (2010) found that the speed at which people believe they are reaching their goals, which is referred to as velocity, is also important in determining performance
While Elicker et al. found that students who had better performance were more satisfied with their performance, the results showed that students who believed they were approaching their goals more quickly (higher velocity) were also more satisfied with their performance. Overall, performance satisfaction tended to be greatest for students who considered their academic goals to be highly important to them AND perceived that they were attaining their goals quickly (high velocity).
In addition to satisfaction, Elicker et al.’s results suggest that velocity leads to increased mental focus toward goal attainment, which likely increases learning and performance.
Another outcome of practical interest is that students who believed they were moving quickly toward goal attainment did not revise their goals as much as those who perceived that they were moving slowly toward achieving their goals. Interestingly, however, for those who perceived low velocity but felt that their goals were highly important to them, tended to set higher goals for themselves over time.
The authors speculate that this allows people to compensate for their lack of progress toward goal attainment. There is no doubt that the implications of these findings are limited in their applicability to the workplace. However, Elicker et al.’s findings point to often neglected piece of the goal setting puzzle: velocity. If you’re skeptical, think about the second question asked in this review in terms of your work, i.e., how applicable are these findings to you?
So what can we take from this article? If goal attainment is far away, satisfaction may not necessarily be. Get started on those neglected projects!
Elicker, J.D., Lord, R.G., Ash, S.R., Kohari, N.C., Hruska, B.J., McConnell, N.L., & Medvedeff, M.E. (2010). Velocity as a predictor of performance satisfaction, mental focus, and goal revision. Applied Psychology: An International Review, 59(3),
When Performance Goals are a Must
Topic: Feedback, Goals, Performance
Publication: Human Performance
Article: Achievement goals, feedback, and task performance
Authors: A.M. Cianci, J.M. Schaubroeck, and G.A. McGill
Reviewed By: Benjamin Granger
Although performance feedback is vital to effective job performance, employees can react
differently to the same feedback. For example, while some employees give up in the face of negative feedback about their performance, others persevere and actually improve their performance over time. Alternatively, when presented with positive feedback, some employees coast while others maintain their high levels of performance. Cianci et al. recently showed that the type of goals that are set for employees help explain how they react to positive and negative performance feedback.
In general, Cianci et al. found that those who were assigned a learning goal for a complex computerized task (“your goal…is to learn how to approach this kind of task as well as possible”) outperformed both those who were assigned a performance goal (“your goal…is to perform as well as possible, achieving the highest score possible”) and those assigned no goal at all. What’s interesting is that following positive performance feedback, those assigned performance goals boosted their performance while negative feedback was detrimental to future performance on the task. The opposite trend was apparent for those assigned learning goals (i.e., negative feedback was beneficial and positive feedback was detrimental to performance).
Cianci and colleagues also investigated how peoples’ beliefs about their ability impact how they respond to performance and learning goals. More specifically, the authors discussed two overarching beliefs about one’s ability: (1) ability is fixed and CANNOT be improved over time and (2) ability is incremental and CAN increase over time. They found that the latter view was generally beneficial to performance, especially for those assigned performance goals.
In general, Cianci et al.’s findings suggest that assigning learning goals to employees leads to superior performance. However, there are times in which it is beneficial or necessary to set performance goals. In these cases, managers should ensure that they include positive performance feedback (particularly if it must sandwich constructive feedback) throughout the project/assignment and encourage employees to view their abilities as improvable over time.
Oldies — but Goodies — in Complex Jobs
Topic: Performance, Goals
Publication: Journal of Vocational Behavior (JUNE 2010)
Article: Focus on opportunities as a mediator of the relationships between age, job complexity and work performance
Authors: H. Zacher, S. Heusner, M. Schmitz, M.M., Zwierzanska, and M. Frese
Reviewed By: Benjamin Granger
Despite there being many compelling arguments for why age should be related to work performance (e.g., younger employees are less experienced, older employees have less drive), there is little evidence that such a relationship exists (except that older employees tend to engage in more organizational citizenship behaviors!). According to Zacher and colleagues (2010), these null findings may be due to several competing factors which lead older employees to outperform younger employees and vice versa. In their recent study, Zacher et al. explored an individual difference known as focus on opportunities which refers to employees’ perceptions of the availability of future work-related options and opportunities. The authors found that older employees tend to have a weaker focus on opportunities than younger employees, possibly because older employees receive less career support and are more focused on retirement than future work-related opportunities.
As Zacher et al. hypothesized, focus on opportunities is related to overall work performance (as rated by study participants’ coworkers) and helps explain why younger workers might outperform their older colleagues.
Thus, it appears that older employees have bleaker outlooks on their work-related futures and their work performance may suffer as a result. However, Zacher et al. found that employees working in complex jobs tend to have a stronger focus on opportunities than employees working in less complex jobs. Job complexity seems to be particularly important for older employees since it helps them maintain a strong focus on opportunities.
Zacher et al. conclude their article by arguing that while job complexity is important for employees at all ages, it is particularly vital for older employees. Presenting older employees with challenges at work (e.g., formal mentoring roles) can help them maintain their focus on work-related opportunities and keep their work performance high.
Zacher, H., Heusner, S., Schmitz, M., Zwierzanska, M.M., & Frese, M. (2010). Focus on opportunities as a mediator of the relationships between age, job complexity and work performance. Journal of Vocational Behavior, 76, 374-386.
Subconscious Goal Setting: Pursuing Goals Without Even Knowing It
Publication: Journal of Management (JAN 2010)
Article: The relevance and viability of subconscious goals in the workplace
Authors: G.P. Latham, A.D. Stajkovic, and E.A. Locke
Reviewed By: Benjamin Granger
Unless you’ve been living under a rock, you probably know that goal-setting is an effective strategy for improving employee performance. What you might not know is that goal-setting research is moving outside of the boundaries of human consciousness. That’s right, a new line of research has recently emerged on what is known as subconscious goal-setting. Remember the stories of movie theaters mixing frames of popcorn in their previews clips to get the audience to visit the concession stand? Subconscious goal setting works a bit like that. Although it may sound a little ‘out there’, support is building for its effectiveness in the workplace.
In a recent review of subconscious goal setting, Latham, Stajkovic, and Locke (2010) discuss the history of research on the human subconscious (outside of an employee’s conscious awareness – Freud may come to mind?!), reasons why management researchers have largely neglected it, and recent research on subconscious goal setting in work contexts.
Latham and colleagues conclude that subconscious goals can lead to improved performance in work settings. Additionally, unlike conscious goals (e.g., “My goal is to…”), subconscious goals do not use up employees’ mental resources. And we all know how quickly our mental resources can be drained at work. But best of all, subconscious goal setting is easy. Managers can prime subconscious goals by simply inserting strategic words into training manuals (e.g., “customer focus”, “generate sales”) or distributing achievement-related posters or mouse pads (e.g., person winning a race) throughout the workplace. Amazingly, these things can impact employee performance at work!
But, doesn’t this seem just a little bit scary? While subconscious goal setting is certainly intriguing, it does pose a serious ethical dilemma, which Latham and colleagues acknowledge. Now, where’s my popcorn….